Interviews

Chloe Coscarelli on the Ritual of Food in Uncertain Times

11 min read

Vegan chef Chloe Coscarelli talks to us about overcoming obstacles in her career, the power of food, and finding comfort in cooking during times of uncertainty.
Vegan chef Chloe Coscarelli talks to us about overcoming obstacles in her career, the power of food, and finding comfort in cooking during times of uncertainty.

Essential Takeaways

  • Chef Chloe Coscarelli has spent her career bringing plant-based cuisine to the masses, championing the idea of conscientious eating long before it hit the mainstream.
  • “I turn to food to help me through so much," she tells us. We chatted with her about the ups and downs of her career, her experience as the only woman in the room, and finding comfort through cooking during times of uncertainty.

The greatest tool in a woman’s toolbox isn’t a cosmetic or a brush. It’s self-determination—the daily commitment you make to yourself and your future, and the hard work and rituals that create the foundation for that journey. Make Your Self is a series that spotlights the stories of women who fiercely embody this relentless pursuit.


When we connect with Chloe Coscarelli at the beginning of March, there’s a palpable incongruity hanging over our conversation. We’re on the phone, after all, to discuss the career and perspective of a natural-born go-getter; a woman who has made it her life’s mission to educate and inspire the masses about their food choices—all with an infectious optimism, to boot. And yet, here we are: just a few days into our respective shelter-in-place orders, staring down a strange new reality in which the best impact one can make is physically distancing from the world at large. Like so many of us, Coscarelli is grappling with the magnitude of the moment—the sheer bizarreness of being forced to recalibrate ourselves. “So many of us have built our identity and sense of self over our role in the outside world,” she says.

So she turns to the grounding ritual she knows best: cooking nourishing meals, and finding solace through the power of food.


Given the ubiquity of veganism and plant-based diets now, it’s rather remarkable to think back to just ten, twenty years ago: a time when veg-friendly restaurants were relatively niche and full of hippie connotations, when almond milk was a specialty item rather than just one of a dozen non-dairy milk alternatives. 2004 was the year that Coscarelli chose to go vegan, a decision guided by her love of animals—and after quickly falling in love with her new lifestyle, she wondered why it wasn’t more popular.

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“I felt like instead of entering into a restrictive diet, my eyes were opened to all these new ingredients and produce and spices and legumes that I just never even got to try,” she says. “Best decision ever—and then I just started to have so much fun experimenting in the kitchen.” She didn’t know it at the time, but this was the first step towards a career in making vegan food fun and accessible for all.

Several years, a stint in culinary school, a TV competition win and several career milestones later, Coscarelli has seen much of this mission come to fruition—though not without its obstacles. Now a popular professional chef, cookbook author (a few times over), and entrepreneur, she has powered her way through male-dominated environments, and persistently advocated for a new approach to plant-based cooking when others still couldn’t quite grasp that vision—until the general public finally did, whole-heartedly. That’s probably because Coscarelli’s signature culinary aesthetic can best be described as an emphatic rebuttal to outdated notions of what plant-based food looks like. Her recipes are often flavorful takes on decidedly non-vegan comfort food favorites, like burgers and fettuccine alfredo, featuring colorful produce in cheery hues. They’re healthy—a celebration of whole, sustainably-sourced ingredients—but un-fussy. In other words, they’re the perfect gateway to a more plant-centric, planet-conscious way of eating, whether you identify as vegan or not.

It all speaks to Coscarelli’s insistence that eating healthfully doesn’t have to be complicated or exclusionary. “Obviously, everyone needs to [figure out] what works for them,” she says. “But once you've figured that out, I think that stepping away from overthinking things is always a good idea.” Doing this also allows more room to appreciate all the fresh, vibrant ingredients at our disposal—which means we can ultimately feel that much more connected to the ritual of preparing our meals. Below, Coscarelli talks to us about negotiating her career as the only woman in the room, finding comfort in cooking while social distancing, and the rituals that keep her grounded during trying times.

On the question that inspired her career…

“When I was in culinary school, I realized that there was so much uncharted territory with vegan cooking and so much that was yet to be discovered that hadn't been figured out yet. I thought it was really exciting—in the culinary world, it's kind of a lot of the same foods and themes over and over again. And with vegan food, it felt like there was so much work to be done.

“When I was cooking for family and friends, I would have people say to me things like, ‘Well, I could go vegan if you cooked for me every day.’ And that got me thinking—well, how can I cook for people every day?

“That led me to go on TV and publish cookbooks, and to really show people that vegan food is not what they maybe once thought it was, and that there are a lot of exciting things you can do with it.”

Did you know?

Compared to omnivorous and vegetarian diets, a vegan style of eating is shown to carry the least environmental load. (1)

On the common misconceptions people have about going vegan…

“There used to be less out there in terms of resources, recipes, products, ingredients. It wasn’t as mainstream, and chefs were just working with less. So there would be different kinds of criticisms that you’d hear—people saying that either the food doesn't fill you up or it tastes dry or like cardboard or rubber. Now we've gotten to the point where we have the resources to make anything vegan just as delicious as its non-vegan counterpart.

“When it did start to go mainstream, some people started to think, oh, it’s a hot trend. That's definitely proven to be not the case—it's here to stay, because [because people are realizing] it is the most sustainable way of living and eating. And in my opinion, more delicious as well.”

I turn to food to help me through so much.

Did you know?

According to a Bloomberg study, less than 7 percent of restaurants in the US were lead by female chefs as of 2014. (2)

On the challenges she’s tackled as a female entrepreneur…

“I've encountered countless obstacles, some more crippling than others. We're starting to see a shift in attitudes, which is a good step, but when I was building my career and developing my technique as a chef, being in the kitchen… it was a man's environment. And I worked in a lot of kitchens where I was the only female, and there’s generally a boys' club mentality. That was challenging.

“I remember working in a kitchen where they called me Barbie or princess. It was funny that I was there. I've even been asked if I was a student or an intern in my own kitchen before. And I had to be like, ‘No, actually, I own this place.’

“But it's a new day, which is great. I work with an all female or trans team, and it's just incredible to finally start to get the respect that we've deserved all along as people's eyes are opened to all different kinds of chefs and how they all come in different packages.”

On her own "Food First" philosophy…

“I think food is everything. It’s our fuel. It’s our life. It has such a powerful impact on so many factors that I think people forget, but certainly on wellbeing and wellness in general.

“I turn to food to help me through so much. I think there's nothing more positive than a nourishing meal, especially in times of stress and panic like we're all going through right now. For those of us that are lucky enough to have groceries, it's incredible just how it can change your mental state to have a good, nourishing, plant-based meal.”

On how our definition of “healthy eating” is evolving for the better…

“We're moving into a time where consumers are interested in knowing what they're eating, and there's a lot of emphasis on education right now, which is amazing. There are so many questions being asked, and I think that is really empowering to people to know what they're eating and what choices they're making in terms of what they're putting inside their body.

“There are things that we used to consume without ever knowing where it came from, and I think that's kind of what led me on my journey to veganism—just asking myself a simple question of, where does this dinner come from?”

On the rituals she relies on in times of stress…

“Every night, I have been making a broth: I boil water, I add in a handful of garlic cloves, turmeric, miso, ginger, and I blend it up and add some cayenne. And I've been drinking five mugfuls a night. It's delicious and nourishing and makes me feel good when I drink it.

“I also started a whole bunch of group chats on my phone, and I gave them all names. So, normally it would just be, oh, I'm chatting with mom, brother, and grandpa, but I labeled all of them so it's easier to check in on multiple people at once.

“I consider myself to be a student of a lot of things, and yeah, just always trying to learn more about things that make me feel really excited and energized, like vegan cooking or music or ... I don't know, concentrating on my animals.”

On what “make yourself” means to her…

“It’s an interesting time to answer that question. I think that so many of us have built our identity and sense of self over our role in the outside world. Every day [in our current environment], I’m humbled by what's happening around me. I’m realizing that we're always all still learning.”

References:

  1. Rosi, A., Mena, P., Pellegrini, N., Turroni, S., Neviani, E., Ferrocino, I., Di Cagno, R., Ruini, L., Ciati, R., Angelino, D., Maddock, J., Gobbetti, M., Brighenti, F., Del Rio, D., & Scazzina, F. (2017). Environmental impact of omnivorous, ovo-lacto-vegetarian, and vegan diet. Scientific reports, 7(1), 6105
  2. Hartke, K. (2018, August 31). Women Chefs Still Walk 'A Fine Line' In The Kitchen. Retrieved from NPR.

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